As I sat in a city-wide Hall of Fame awards ceremony, many of the esteemed honorees used the word “persistence” as the secret ingredient to their success. Persistence against the naysayers. Persistence through the failures and mistakes. Persist when others quit. It makes a lot sense. Nobody wins a gold medal by having an occasional commitment to exercising.
But my personal experience with persistence left me worn-out and pissed off. I persisted at my day job, where I thought we were following the easy path, not the path that would make the most difference for our cause. I was stuck in a Sisyphean battle to make my ideas known, and railing against whomever I thought caused my ideas to boomerang into oblivion—over and over and over again.
So I did what the Hall of Fame honorees told me was the real failure: I quit. I quit the job and I quit the battle. And that is the $64,000 question, isn’t it? When to quit and when to keep going. When do you stop doing something that brings you pain, but has just enough payoff to make you stick with it? When do you get out of a marriage, leave a job, move away, change churches, abandon a cause, say ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ What if persistence is what you needed instead of just ‘giving up’?
Well, here’s another ingredient I discovered in the secret sauce: authenticity. When I look back on that job, I’m grateful for the opportunities to grow and learn, the compassionate, smart people I worked alongside, and the difference we did make in people’s lives. But too much of every day was spent not being the person I wanted to be, the person I knew was inside my heart, the person who stretched all her talents beyond the outer limits. I simply was not my best self in that environment. It was not a match for my authentic self.
Persisting in a situation or a relationship or an organization where you are not being your best self, where you are not using your creativity and passion on a regular basis, where at the end of the day, when you are quiet and still, that inner voice asks: Is this really YOU?—that is a good time to ask yourself if your persistence has turned into attachment. Attachment to being right, to making others wrong, to your ego’s familiar rant to keep things the way they are, to fear’s stubborn avoidance of the unknown.
Pairing authenticity with persistence now has me playing at a whole new game—one of my own making with no excuses, and no blaming others. I am choosing persistently, unapologetically, to bring the real, authentic me. Not coincidentally, this me who is no longer railing and defensive and pissed off is naturally more compassionate, generous, and creative. Go figure.
I’m abundantly aware how fortunate I am that I could quit my job, that financially my spouse and I could weather a dip in income. There have been times in my life where holding on to a job I hated was the only way to stay afloat. But even looking back on that time, I see how I could have let go and moved on sooner.
How often are you putting up with what is unworkable, uninspiring, even infuriating or dangerous? Only you can say when you’ve had enough.